Pearls have been a symbol of elegance and wealth for hundreds of years and in nearly every culture. Natural pearls are accidentally formed in the interior of a mollusc without human intervention.The chances of finding a natural pearl are perhaps one in 100,000. The chances of finding a fairly round, large size natural pearl with a good lustre and surface finish are infinitesimally small. A strand of matching, quality natural pearls is amongst the most rare and valuable of gems.
One of the most fascinating stories about natural pearls is that of Cartier’s iconic headquarters: It is told that in 1915 Louis Cartier exhibited an extraordinary natural pearl necklace. Amongst its admirers was wealthy socialite Mae Plant who offered to exchange her mansion in the heart of New York for this exquisite piece of jewellery. It is estimated the exchange was worth over $16 million!
In the last century, however the luxury and elegance of pearls have become more accessible thanks to the pioneering work of Kokichi Mikimoto. He created the process for culturing pearls: farming the oysters and coaxing them to produce pearls on a commercial scale. Today, cultured pearls represent the vast majority of what is on the market today and include the fine Japanese Akoya pearls, the larger South Sea pearls and even the lower-cost freshwater pearls.
Melo and Conch pearls are now receiving more attention amongst fine jewellery connoisseurs. These unusual gems are appreciated for their rarity and for their beautiful colours and unique patterns that resemble flames which are visible on the finest quality specimens. Like natural pearls, these organic gems are very rare because they are naturally produced but enterprising farmers are now experimenting with culturing the marine creatures that produce them!
Whether you are investing in pearls or simply buying them for their beauty, it is important to learn more about what you are buying. Shoppers today will find a great deal of imitations and creatively described alternatives on the market!
Tanja M. Sadow G.J.G.
Dean and founder of the Jewellery Design and Management International School